Avoiding Social Media Burnout

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, YouTube, you name it, there’s a social media platform out there for it. So many in fact it can feel more than overwhelming to need to be a part of all of them. Here’s my little piece of advice to avoid feeling the social media burn out. You don’t have to be on every platform.

home-office-336378_960_720Every platform is different. Bringing it’s own style, audience and interaction. Each one feels a little bit different. As you go through your journey of Agvocating more than likely you are going to gravitate towards the platforms you feel most comfortable with. When you are familiar and at home with the platform it really allows your true voice to shine through. Instead of worrying about the platform you can focus on the story you want to tell.

It’s ok to say no! There’s definitely a feeling that if you aren’t on every platform you are missing an audience or won’t get noticed. At the same time if it feels like torture to keep up with a platform, then it’s perfectly fine to utilize other routes or just not have a presence there. For myself as Guernsey Dairy Mama I have a hate, love relationship with Twitter. 140 characters and fast paced, it’s just not my style and you wont see me very often tweeting anything original. I found another route with Twitter by linking my Facebook posts. That way I’m findable on Twitter, but don’t have to put effort into a platform I don’t enjoy. There are plenty of other Agvocates out there rocking Twitter, and I am a ok with that!

Social Media should be fun and enjoyable. When you take on too platforms it tends to take the fire out of telling your story. Pick the platforms you enjoy the most and stick to those. When you are enjoying what you’re sharing that enthusiasm will show through those posts.

Don’t let all the platforms under the sun create an eclipse for your social media journey. Pick your favorites, stick to what feels true to you, and rock it! That way you won’t feel burnt out with platforms you don’t even enjoy. Leaving you more time to focus on sharing your story.

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Darleen SichleyDarleen Sichley is a third generation dairy farmer in Oregon. Her passion and dedication for the dairy industry comes from wanting to see it sustain for future generations, she believes a part of that is now bridging the gap with consumers by telling her story. She blogs about life with 3 generations working together everyday for the best care possible of their Guernsey Ladies.

You can also follow her on Facebook,  Instagram and Twitter.

Why Do I AgVocate? – Ashley Messing-Kennedy

What is your role in agriculture?

I am the 3rd generation on my family’s dairy farm where I work with my parents to manage the animals.

What was your inspiration for becoming an agvocate?

I have always loved writing. It was a creative release for me for years, then I found a group of farmers that were involved in social media and I realized I could combine my love of writing with my love of farming. That was the birth of my first blog 8 years ago!

What is your favorite part about being an agvocate?

I love how many relationships I have gained. I have very close friends all across the country thanks to agvocating.

What is the most challenging part of being an agvocate?

The Internet is such an anonymous place. So many people think they can say whatever they want and there are no consequences. Often people type things they would never say something they would never say to a persons face. I find the lack of etiquette and kindness to be challenging.

What advice for other farmer/ranchers who would like to become more involved in agvocacy?

Find something you enjoy but don’t take on too much. We all have a lot to do between our families and jobs, don’t feel like you need to do everything.

What is your biggest takeaway or memory from an AgChat event or Twitter chat?

I will never forget attending the first AgChat conference in Chicago. Getting to meet all of these people in real life was amazing!

What does the AgChat Foundation mean to you?

They took my blogging to a whole new level by providing me with resources and the ability to network.

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Ashley Messy KennedyAshley is a millennial, wife, mom and a dairy farmer. Ashley, her husband, Eric, and daughter Calli live on the dairy farmer she grew up on. As the 3rd generation on the family farm Ashley and her husband are the caretakers of the animals and the farm. In addition to farming Ashley loves reading, cooking, beauty, home DIY and training for 5k races.

You can follow Ashley on her blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & Pinterest.

What the Well-Dressed AgVocate Wears for Travel

So – I am highly extroverted, can talk to a tree stump, and love, love, love to talk about food and farming. And I travel somewhat frequently for business, and sometimes for pleasure.

Being so overly outgoing, I sometimes… well, I make people very… alert. Especially introverts. So, in order to meet them at a point of comfortable conversation for both of us, I’ve taken to making my opening statement through my wardrobe. They may then decide to engage in conversation, or not.

RaeI travel in T-shirts, unless my schedule is packed so tightly that I have to deplane and hit a meeting. Sometimes I wear one anyway. The AGvocacy community is tightly-knit, so in addition to my Kentucky shirts (So God Made A Kentucky Farmer), I have “Pigs: the Inventors of Bacon” from RealPigFarming, the National Pork Checkoff. I have “Baconista” from the Kansas Soybean Board and Kansas Pork Board partnership. I have “Don’t Fear Your Food” and “Make Food Choices Based on Facts, Not Fear,” from the CommonGround program.

Several of my farmer friends have gifted me with logo shirts, because they know I will wear them proudly. I have some LeCows shirts from my Holstein-loving friends in Paducah, Kentucky, and “Fall on the Farm” shirts from Murray State University. The Hutson School of Ag also provided a shirt with one of Thomas Jefferson’s famous quotes about farming.

The bacon shirts start great conversations about antibiotics, hormones, farrowing crates and gestation stalls – really anything CAFO – while the dairy shirts are great for conversations about lactose intolerance, added hormones and antibiotics in milk, and how we keep milk clean. I’ve had several conversations about cow comfort and educated folks that there are actually such things as “cow butt scratchers.” Oh the places you’ll go, oh the things you’ll learn!

Wearing your topic of choice literally on your body is a great way to start conversations, and I would venture to guess this technique would work just as well for introverts as it does for me.

Nerd trip tip: always travel with business cards and at least a small stash of literature in your carry-on, easily accessible. Mass media and social media are wonderful ways to share our story, but those one-on-one conversations are memorable and hard to beat.

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Rae Wagoner is Director of Communication for the Kentucky Soybean Board and the Kentucky Soybean Association, and has found her career to be what she calls the “RGDJ” (redneck girl’s dream job) on her blog. Rae has always lived the rural lifestyle and jokes that she’s only ever dated one guy who didn’t wear the blue corduroy jacket… and THAT was a mistake! She resides in western Kentucky with her husband, Sutton, and her wiener dog, Savannah Jane., and enjoys reading, cowboy boots, wine and photography… not necessarily in that order.

Make sure to follow Rae on her blog, Twitter, Instagram & Pinterest.

The Chick Wire: Connecting With Consumers Through a Podcast

Recently, I went through a change. No, it wasn’t a mid-life crisis; I’m not quite there yet! But, I did have to change my name. It wasn’t a divorce or remarriage either. I’m still annoying the same guy I have been for the last 15 years. I had to change my social media handle and website name. For several years I was known as Farm Barbie, now I’m the founder of The Chick Wire.

The Chick WireThe Chick Wire is a network of women that shares values, cultivates understanding, and inspires without judgment. That’s the overall mission statement. Now, how I go about achieving that mission is by interviewing amazing women in any career, hobby, or life story for my podcast. These “chicks” tell me their story as I interview them using values-based messaging, which in turn leads the listeners to understand and hopefully be inspired to some course of action in their own life.

Let’s face it: there’s enough bad news, nasty trolls, and awful weather and commodity prices to make your head explode. That’s why I decided to use my legal struggle and name change to be a literal voice for agriculture and promote some positivity and good in the world while integrating information about ag.

It feels like it’s always us (farmers and ranchers) against them (consumers). My lofty goal is to stop the game of Us vs. Them, and instead create a big ol’ happy campfire we can all sing Kumbaya around. With each chick I interview, I’m reaching a new audience. Her family, friends, and colleagues are tuning in to hear her episode. They decide they like it and maybe listen to a few more, or they subscribe to my podcast on iTunes and listen to the newest episode every week. It’s a slow integration of anyone from any walk of life, but I think and hope it will be the game changer of ag-understanding in this country. As each chick is telling her story, I’m adding in snippets of my own story, my farm, or things I’ve learned from other farmer friends. Listeners hear a little bit every week about farmers and farming, and can slowly begin to trust me as a voice for agriculture, and overall trust the American farmer like they used to.

Podcasting is very underrepresented in agriculture. Many folks don’t even know what a podcast is! I can think of only a handful of podcasts that even have something to do with farmers or farming. It’s a form of media that is quickly developing, and in fact, podcasting is the new it-thing, especially with millennials. Case in point: my husband (39 years old) still listens to our local AM radio station because it’s the only station he can get in many of our tractors. Once I showed him how to use the podcast app on his iPhone, and search and subscribe to podcasts like mine, he began listening to different types of podcasts all the time. I like to fold laundry, sweep floors, cook, and drive the kids to practices and games with a podcast playing in my pocket. I’m learning something while being entertained and getting my work done at the same time, which is much better than just listening to music. I’m a big fan of podcasts!

Now, down to the nuts and bolts of podcasting: it’s actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it! I must admit, I didn’t figure it all out on my own. I hired a small business technology consulting firm to help me get started, and they showed me how to do it all. I use a quality hand-held voice recorder for my in-person interviews, and Skype with a set of headphones for my phone-call interviews. I have Garage Band on my Mac, which I use to create and edit an episode. I manage my website using squarespace, and simply upload the audio file to my blog page, along with pictures and show notes, and it’s automatically connected to iTunes. In fact, iTunes has tons of helpful and handy guides to help you get started. The hardest part is actually conducting the interview with the chick, because I’m not a journalist or a professional interviewer. I’m just a mom on a mission. A big company thought they could silence me, but they didn’t know whom they were dealing with. They might have won the battle over a name, but they didn’t win the war over me. Agriculture is something worth fighting for and this Barbie has a lot more fight in her!

Have you heard of The Chick Wire Show yet? If not, feel free to head on over to iTunes (or wherever you want to listen to podcasts), and simply search “The Chick Wire.” You can listen to one episode at a time, or subscribe and automatically listen to the latest “chick” show every time I release a new episode.

Thanks for tuning in! Toodaloo!

Staying Positive When Times Are Tough on the Farm

As a young girl I always dreamed of owning my own farm/ranch. I grew up on my parent’s hobby farm bucking square bales and riding/driving our Minneapolis Moline tractor. Who knew that my life would turn out the way it has. Marrying an immigrant from England, that also had the same dream of owning and operating a farm. Now, 2 kids later, we are a first generation farm family. But it just didn’t land at our feet. Just kind of like advocating for what we do every day. It started just to keep my husband’s family in the loop of what we were doing. Then it was the pull of the consumer wanting to know how and what we do on the farm. That’s when writing and pictures became more important than ever.

Stressed WomanThen the down markets. With all highs, come lows, and that doesn’t exclude markets or the farm life. Recently I was struggling on how to keep going with advocating. All I wanted to do was focus on our family and the farm. Nothing good was happening, and farming didn’t seem fun anymore. Not when you’re getting paid pennies for all the work and hours spent sowing and reaping the crops we took time on. Why would I want to share our emotional stress? Nobody cares. Would they think that we’re just whining? Would they understand? How do I convey the feeling of the unknowing of how we’re going to make it through?

Farming isn’t always the romantic rosy picture, we know that. Consumers need to know that too. Being a true farmer and a true optimist go hand in hand. It’s having the bravery and tenacity to keep moving forward. Consumers need to see our good, bad, and ugly. Don’t be hesitant to share your story. Share your emotional pull toward the land, and what you do.

Hope is the best medicine for our future. Let’s show them that.

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Jenny BurgessJenny Burgess is a Farmer who farms with her husband and two children in the heart of central Kansas. She grew up on a hobby farm not too far from where she raises her family now. The only child, she learned the true meaning of hard work. From bucking bales, feeding animals, and driving antique tractors, she was a girl who tried to keep up with her dad with the chores. She met her husband, who was from England, and eventually got married. They both had the dream of owning their own farm. Today that dream still lives and is growing, along with two kids. They grow Wheat, Corn, Soybeans, and Milo, all dryland crops.

Follow Jenny on her blog, Facebook, Twitter & Instagram.

Ask Yourself These Three Questions Before Responding to Your Ag Customers

If you’ve been to any ag meetings or conferences over the past few years, you’ve heard the message that we should all be talking to people about farming, food and ag online,  in person, or at community events, etc…

And sometimes, at good conferences, they will even go into the “what” you should be talking to them about. So you might hear them say (and I’ve said this too) you need to be talking about:

  •      Animal Care
  •      Family Values
  •      Farm Technology
  •      Sustainability and the Environment
  •      Food Safety
  •      Good Farming Practices
  •      Employee Relations

And they might want you to address some of the controversial subjects like antibiotics, hormones, GMOs and animal treatment.

But what I don’t see a lot of talk about is “how” you could talk. In other words, what should your tone and manner be when you want to have an engaging conversation with your customer about ag.

When it comes these conversations, I suggest you try this three question approach.

  1.     What am I trying to accomplish with this conversation?
  2.     How am I seeing them?
  3.     How do I want them to see me?

And this is where I think a lot of potentially good conversations go off the rails. I don’t think either conversation participant has thought these questions through and what began as a conversation turns into a war of words that someone needs to “win”.

But if we use the above approach when it comes to communicating, you can see how it will shape our tone.Starwars

Let’s do an example.

You are on Facebook and you share a positive dairy farming story about cow care on your Facebook page.

dairy farmA question pops up from a person.

Someone writes on the page. “Don’t you think it’s better to have cows on the pasture to keep them cool?”

Now because almost all farmers I know do animal care differently (some on pasture and some not) this question could be considered a threat. I would always recommend clicking through to the person’s profile to see if they are a threat or not. Usually it’s pretty easy to tell if they are against animal ag. But let’s say they are not. They just have a question.

So you have to ask yourself: What am I trying to accomplish with this conversation?

I believe that it would be every farmer’s desire to have this person trust what the article says about dairy cows and technology and trust them as a dairy farmer taking care of cows.

What do people trust? They trust people that are experts in their field, that share their knowledge and that are consistent and reliable in what they share. Farmers have a lot of trust already (food and ag especially farmers test high in credibility and authority, according to Gallup.)

So, let’s answer the second question.

How am I seeing them? When it comes to your customers, you need to be honest with yourself in how you see them. When I speak at ag conferences and I show images of young urban millennials doing millennial things (snapchatting, hanging in coffee shops, shopping at a farmer’s market, etc.) I get a few snide remarks and put downs. If that’s how you think of your customers, then it will have a negative effect on the conversation.

So how should you see your customers? They are the heroes of this conversation. What? I didn’t say they were the heroes of your life and you need to be following their lead. What I’m trying to say is that when you are speaking with them, they are concerned with themselves – they are the heroes of their lives.

This brings us to the final questions, how do I want them to see me?

In most stories and movies, what does a hero almost always need to achieve his goal. You got it, a guide. Someone who knows how to help the hero – someone who loves the hero and, in a lot of movies, someone who sacrifices themselves for the sake of the hero.

I think you should consider yourself the hero’s good guide to good food production and good farming practices.

Your customers need someone to guide them. Someone they can trust that knows animals and the land. And this goes right along with other images that they hold about farmers – hard-working, strong, wholesome, happy and tough. You can see that image displayed most often in pickup truck ads like this Dodge one.

There’s an analogy I love to use in class mostly because almost everyone I know has seen the movies, Star Wars.

Your customers are like Luke Skywalkers. They are on a quest for good food that they don’t have to feel guilty about. They want to make sure the food they are serving their families is healthy, tastes great and wasn’t produced by the Evil Empire.

You are like Obi-Wan, a Jedi knight/farmer who knows the ways of good farming and great animal care. You show them insights (I’m not a fan of “educating” people on ag – the term, I believe, is often used in a condescending way by some ag leaders) into how you farm and why you do it that way.

But if you think of yourselves as Obi-Wan’s, then the tone and your attitude change. You don’t ever attack Luke. You are patient and thorough. You use clear language and you never put them down. You want them to be the hero – to rise up with their new information and share it with others because they trust you and your knowledge.

Is it tough to be Obi-Wan? Yes, of course, it is. But does it leave an impression on Luke? You bet it does. Will you still get attacked by negativity? Yes, but Obi-Wan always took the high road because that’s the road of integrity and trust.

via GIPHY

Would you like help in being more like Obi-Wan? You can always reach out directly to me via don.schindler@dairy.org or contact your local State and Regional dairy checkoffs.

Would you like to spread more positive dairy stories on your social media pages and profiles? Please join the Dairy Amplification Center. This mobile and web application allows you to share positive dairy stories (that are updated almost daily) to your social feeds with just one click.

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don-schindler-pic-262x272Don Schindler is the Senior Vice President of Digital Innovations at DMI. Don has been teaching farmers, staff and the dairy industry how to connect with consumers using social media and digital marketing for the past three years. He’s also responsible for new digital technologies at DMI. Before coming to DMI, Don directed the Communications team at the University of Notre Dame and taught classes at the Mendoza College of Business at ND. He grew up on beef and row crop farm in southeast Missouri.

7 Ways for Farmers to Get Involved in Their Local Community

I don’t think there are many occupations that are more busy than farming. On our farm, we have many days that start in the early morning and go to late at night. There is always something that needs tending to on the farm.

But even though we are busy, it’s important for all of us to find time to be involved in organizations—both ag and non-ag. Even if you only choose one organization, be involved.

Why should you be involved?

Our voice is important.

We have a unique and special perspective that is needed today. And not only that, our involvement can make a difference. Sometimes terrible decisions are made today because the decision-makers don’t know how their decisions affect agriculture. The phrase I hear often is, “if you are not at the table, you will be on the table.”

And that’s why we need to be at the table.

In addition, the personal networking and connections are priceless. We talk often in agvocacy about needing to reach outside the choir. Being involved in non-ag organizations allows agriculture to network and connect with many non-ag people.

Here is a list of seven reasons on how you can be involved and why it’s important:

  1. Join agricultural boards or organizations. These organizations allow you an opportunity to give input into areas that affect you directly. The list of potential ag organizations and boards are endless: Commodity organizations (local, state, national), or other ag-related organizations like Farm Bureau, Farmers Union, CommonGround. Choose what area you are interested in and make it known to others that you are interested. Organizations welcome enthusiastic and willing people to participate.
  2. Join your local Chamber of Commerce. Say what? “Why do I want to be a member of the Chamber of Commerce? That is for city businesses.” Because we are a business, something we cannot forget. We need to share our voice with our city counterparts.
  3. Be active in your school. Whether it means helping out in your children’s school rooms, chaperoning a school field trip, being a member or running for a position on your local PTL or run for your local school board. Why is this important? Being involved in your school is another way to reach outside the choir and network with those in charge of educating our children. Think of agriculture education. Think of the fairness of property taxes which fund schools. We need an ag voice in our education system.
  4. Civic organizations. Join your local Kiwanis or Rotary clubs. Not only is it fun but you are giving back to your community through service projects. A great way to connect with non-ag people to share your story.
  5. Government entities. Consider running for your township board, county commissioner or state or federal representatives. Decisions are made in our government and many those decisions affect ag adversely. People just don’t know what they don’t know. Agriculture absolutely needs to be there.
  6. Church. Be active and volunteer in your church. There is a special bond with people who share their religious commonality with each other. Church involvement may not directly affect agriculture but it’s another avenue to connect both ag and non-ag people by praying and sharing fellowship with each other.
  7. baseball-1488004_960_720Coach. If you are interested in sports or other coaching events, please volunteer. It’s a nice release from the day-to-day activities on the farm and volunteers are always needed. So what does this have to do with agriculture? Absolutely nothing. And that’s the point. A great way to connect with non-ag people.

One thing that makes our nation special is the amount of volunteering and participating we do. It really is unique compared to other nations. Being involved allows us the quality of life we have come to treasure. And for agriculture, by being involved we can contribute to that quality of life and also give our perspective on issues, which we all know is desperately needed and important for our nation and for agriculture to thrive.

So let’s become involved.

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WandaWanda is a wife, mother and grandmother from south central Minnesota who farms with her husband, Chuck. They have 3 daughters and 5 grandchildren. In addition to their family, they raise hogs, corn and soybeans. With a passion for agriculture, Wanda is also a blogger talking about the topics most close to her heart – agriculture and living in rural Minnesota. Wanda’s main responsibilities are helping with the crops in both spring and fall, in addition to being responsible for the accounting functions on the farm.

Reducing Food Waste – Talk About It. Be About It.

Food WasteFeeding a growing population has been on the minds of those of us growing food for decades. And as of late, it is something readily written about on our blogs and shared across our social media feeds.

Every day we are conversing about today’s farmers and how we are able to do so much more with less. We highlight how far farming has come since 1960 when an individual farmer could only feed 25.8 people. We talk about, and agvocate for, every new technology that helps us remain sustainable and “feed the 9”, and that’s great – it really is. But, we are missing an opportunity, and quite frankly, doing ourselves a disservice if we are not also addressing food waste as part of that discussion.

Food Waste

Food waste is a huge problem that has been allowed to run rampant for far too long now. In the United States alone we waste a staggering 40% of all food purchased. And yet, food waste is a topic that most remain relatively quiet about. Why is that? Shouldn’t we be more upset about the food we work so hard to grow being literally thrown in the garbage? Shouldn’t we be making more noise on the issue?

The answer is yes. We should be more upset, and we should be making more noise to draw attention to the insane amounts of food being wasted each year. One of the best ways to bring attention to something is to…

Talk About It

Literally, talk about it. Bring up food waste in your daily face-to-face conversations. Then take to your blog and/or your social media properties and talk about it some more. The following are both great ways to engage readers in a virtual conversation.

  • Start a series. Sure, you can publish the occasional post on food waste, but blogging in series is a great way to engage existing readers and gain new ones. I started the year off with a food waste series called Diary of a Recovering Food Waster. The series was one part shedding light on food waste and one part holding myself accountable to my own goals in reducing waste. In it, I shared my food wasting wins and fails, as well as tips and tricks to reducing waste.

Diary of a Recovering Food Waster has since been transformed into a new series – Food Saver Friday. The aim of the new series is to focus on answering reader questions and providing more actionable goals, tips, and tricks for reducing food waste.

The beauty of a series is flexibility. You can post on a weekly or monthly intervals. It can go on indefinitely, or it can have clear start and stop dates. You can write all the posts yourself, or you can take on guest writers. Regardless what you choose, one thing is certain, a blog series is an excellent way to talk about and draw attention to the issue at hand, which in this case is food waste.

  • Hashtag, hashtag, hashtag. Utilize the power of the hashtag by either creating your own, or jumping on an existing food waste related hashtag. For example, whenever I share anything from my Food Saver Friday series, or just a post about food waste on a Friday, I use #FoodSaverFriday (my original) and #WasteLess (one I jumped on by taking the challenge – see below).

Don’t stop with the mere act of hashtagging – amplify them. Engage your readers, and other bloggers, by inviting them to also share posts about food waste and how to reduce it, using the same hashtags.

Be About It

Because it is not enough to simply talk about reducing food waste, we also need to be about it – change our own habits so we can lead by example. If a new habit can be developed in just 21 days, then the Beef Checkoff’s 30 Day Food Waste Challenge is a great way to reform current habits and get started on the path to reduced food waste. The challenge offers simple solutions to common food wasting conundrums, as well as delicious recipe ideas. And the best part, besides the obvious – reducing food waste, is that sharing the knowledge gained by accepting the challenge is not only allowed, but also strongly encouraged.

If you are ready to be about it, click here to take the challenge and #WasteLess.

Every day we talk about sustainability and feeding the world, but imagine the impact we would have if we turned the conversation to food waste. Imagine the number of people we could feed and the resources we would save if we could get even a fraction of our readers to take heed and waste less. So, let’s talk about it, and be about it. Let’s reduce food waste to help feed the world.

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Terryn Drieling Terryn grew up on a small feedyard in northeast Nebraska. She went on to earn her Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Science from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln and participated in the UNL Feedyard Management Internship. The internship brought her to a large western Nebraska feedyard, where she worked as part of the animal health crew for more than 7 years. Terryn and her husband run a small herd of cows in partnership with her in-laws. But their day job is living and working on a large ranch in the Nebraska Sandhills, raising beef and bringing up their three kids. Terryn writes about their everyday ranch life on her blog Faith Family and Beef.

Make sure to follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & Pinterest.

Why Do I AgVocate?- Hannah Neuenschwander

What is your role in agriculture?

In January 2015 I began my career in agriculture with Monsanto at a soybean production facility in northern Illinois. Our facility works closely with almost 200 farmers in the surrounding area who grow over 50k acres worth of seed-bean fields for us. These harvested soybeans are brought to our site where they undergo a conditioning process to remove excessively large/small seeds, bean pods, weed seeds, and other debris that would otherwise make it difficult for the farmer to plant. These beans are packaged and are the product we sell to our farmer customers for planting in the following crop year. We package enough soybeans at our facility to plant almost 2 million acres!

Independent from my responsibilities at Monsanto, I’m active on social media and I maintain a blog, Texan Meets Midwest, where I post about my experiences working in agriculture and relocating from Texas to work for Monsanto in the Midwest.

What was your inspiration for becoming an agvocate?

My biggest inspiration for becoming an agvocate has been from encountering people who are genuinely fearful about where their food comes from. People shouldn’t be afraid of a food system that is one of the safest and most abundant in the world. It isn’t fair to them and it isn’t fair to the thousands of hard-working families that have dedicated their lives to providing for others. I didn’t grow up on a farm, but I was fortunate enough to learn about the benefits of modern agriculture from industry professionals in an academic setting at a respected agricultural college. Recognizing that not everyone has had that opportunity or has grown up on a farm, I feel compelled to combat the misinformation that groups with disingenuous agendas perpetuate.

What is your favorite part about being an agvocate?

My favorite part of being an agvocate is that moment the person I’m engaging goes from being fearful, or even angry, about how their food is produced to curious or relieved. That’s my goal. It’s not always possible to turn someone 180 degrees after just one conversation, but if I can ease their fear, even just a little bit, I feel like I’ve accomplished something important.

What is the most challenging part of being an agvocate?

The most challenging part of being an agvocate is dealing with the intense and sometimes aggressive criticisms of my character, my passion, and my farmer friends. Pushing through that challenge is a matter of remaining true to myself and turning that negativity into fuel that keeps me going!

What advice for other farmer/ranchers who would like to become more involved in agvocacy?

Farmers and ranchers have a big advantage in the agvocacy arena. Their day-to-day life may not seem very glamorous or interesting to them, but consumers today are absolutely craving an understanding of where their food is coming from and who’s producing it. Something as simple as posting pictures as they go about their chores for the day can help humanize our industry. My advice is to be yourself, remain steadfast and kind in the face of criticism, and network with other’s who are agvocating on social media for support.

What is your biggest takeaway or memory from an AgChat event or Twitter chat?

The first (and so far only) AgChat event I ever attended was the 2016 Collegiate AgChat Congress in Indianapolis. It was incredibly rejuvenating to meet so many other passionate and positive agvocates just like me! My biggest takeaway from that event was that while breaking out of the ag bubble and reaching our target audiences is important, it’s also important to surround yourself with people who support you. I look forward to recharging again at the 2016 Cultivate and Connect Conference this December!

What does the AgChat Foundation mean to you?

The AgChat Foundation has introduced me to a group of extraordinary people from all walks of life and farming backgrounds. The internet is a big place and the people I’ve met through AgChat have helped reassure me that I’m not fighting this fight alone.

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Hannah Neuenschwander2Hannah is a born and raised Texan who grew up showing horses and heavily involved in various 4-H projects. Her love for animals led to her pursuing a degree in Animal Science from Texas A&M University where she gained an appreciation for modern agricultural practices. Just before graduation she accepted a job offer from Monsanto in soybean production that took her 1,300 from everything she had ever known. She now resides in northern Illinois with her horse and cat where she enjoys her time living, learning, and loving agriculture!

Follow her on her blogFacebook, Twitter, Instagram & LinkedIn.

Transparency in AgVocacy

“Eeuuu, Pee-U, What stinks?”

When I hear that from our visitors I know their romanticized view of farming is heading for a change.

“Why can’t the babies stay with their mothers? It seems so mean.”

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When I begin to share the benefits from feeding the calf with a measured amount, the safety from being stepped on, the freshly cleaned, sanitized stall that they will be watched and fed I can see their perception changing.

“Why aren’t your cows out in the fields?”

Yes, today is a nice day to be lollygagging in the open fields – at least until about noon when it will become stifling hot this time of year. Or, would you prefer in 90 degree weather to be in the shaded barn misted with water and cooled with fans?

A large percentage of people I speak with have their own vision of what my farm will look like when I tell them I am a dairy farmer.

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Some think I go out every morning with my apron on and throw some feed to a few chickens. While I collect the eggs, Farmer goes out to milk our two cows using a three legged stool. Then we all come in and have a huge breakfast made from the fresh eggs and bacon from the pig we butchered a few months ago. After breakfast, Farmer jumps on his tractor to do some field work while I’m in the kitchen canning tomatoes and baking bread. If only.

5At a store one day the clerk pointed out to my daughter-in-law a picture on the wall of a cow with horns. She mentioned that everyone was calling the cow Sally. “But, everyone knows that is a boy cow. Only boy cows have horns.”

My daughter-in-law politely answered “No, all cows have horns.”

The clerk adamantly replied, “No, only boys have horns everyone knows that!”

My daughter-in-law responded with “I live on a dairy farm and all calves have horns.”

The clerk just looked at her and turned away.

One of the occurrences that surprise me when we give tours is that many don’t realize or think through the fact that a cow has to give birth before she gives milk. That’s how it works with humans and once they hear that they think, “Oh yes I guess that’s how it would work.”

We met a gentleman the other day on a park bench and started up a conversation. He was sharing how good his health was for an older man. He mentioned that he was a vegetarian. I said to him “It looks like you’re doing a great job of eating a vegetarian diet correctly. Can I ask you why you chose not to eat meat?”

“Sure. I guess I just didn’t like the fact that my meat would come from those big factory farms that don’t take good care of their animals.”

“Have you ever been to a factory farm or know anyone who owns one?” I asked politely.

“No, not really, but I heard they don’t take care of the animals and I didn’t want to be part of that.”

6“Well, we just happen to be dairy farmers and our farm is big enough to be considered a CAFO – which many people call factory farms. We enlarged our farm to be able to support our three sons that were growing into the business.”

I went on to explain a few things and we invited him out to the farm. When we left, he had our phone number, my farm face book page and my blog information. He called the next day and asked if he could come to the farm with a couple of friends.

A few weeks ago I was handed a sample of cheese at the grocery store and the young lady gave her little speech about the cheese and added “It’s antibiotic free.”

Indian Trail Farm Milk Withhold

This is the chart of withdrawal time for medicines. As a farm we take extra time.

I told her how good the cheese was and the introduced myself as a dairy farmer and began to explain that all milk is antibiotic free. I revealed how our milk is tested at the dairy before it enters the system and that if it contained any antibiotics it would be dumped. I shared with her how our computer system and leg bands would set off alarms in the parlor if a cow that has been treated would enter. They are kept in separate pens. Also, I expressed our desire to care for our animals when sick and sometimes that means medication. Once they are well and the antibiotics are out of their system (which is directed by the company that produces the medication) they may come back into the regular milking parlor.

Overwhelmingly people are listening to the loudest voice when it comes to their food supply. And, usually the loudest voice is perpetuating fear in their message. Making decisions based on fear is not a good thing. And, who can blame you? As a mother I want to be sure my family is fed good, quality, safe food.Indian Trail Farm American FlagMy goal is to be the calm voice of information. I don’t carry signs and protest, or put out heart tugging commercials to get you to donate money to my cause. I basically open the doors to our farm and life through my blogging and face book page. We also physically open the doors to our farm for tours.11

I will show the awesome miracle of birth, the great improvements in the industry, the beautiful fields of corn and the painted country skies. You will also learn about the trials of farming in bad weather – too much rain, not enough rain, snow that caves in barn roofs and pests that devour crops. Along with the miracle of birth you will see the reality of death. It’s is never easy when you have to put an animal down or lose one after spending days trying to save her.10

And there will be poop! A lot of poop. Cows eat so therefore they poop. And poop has a unique odor that many people don’t appreciate. Too many people want to move out to the open fields– the fields that grow food for animals that poop that smell – with wrong expectations.Indian Trail Farm, Duck

The bottom line for agvocating? – My Farmer and sons work terribly hard. The hours are long and their bodies are paying the price. Lately the milk prices are so low it’s a challenge to figure out how to keep the wheels turning. When I see them covered in dust and dirt, falling asleep standing up and then read lies, condescending and twisted articles about what we are doing, I get emotionally upset. I become sad and frustrated that the people eating the food that my family is working so hard for are criticizing what we do. I get angry – you wanted transparency well there you have it. I get angry that we are not only working our tails off physically, now we have to work to explain the truth, to expose lies and soothe fears.

I was a big fan of show and tell at school. Now, I do show and tell on steroids and work to get the truth out to the people who need it the most. When I am sick I go to the doctor for help, not a celebrity or well-known athlete. I want a doctor who is educated, who practices on a daily basis. I encourage consumers to bring their questions here to AgChat or Ask the Farmers Facebook page where they have access to all types of farmers.

You can visit my page – A Farm Wife or my blog and if I don’t know the answer, I’ll find out for you.

The next time you have a bowl of cereal with milk or milk and cookies I hope you think of us here in West MI loving the life that helped produce your milk.

This is what we do for fun:

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